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Verdi, Rigoletto Soloists, chorus & orchestra of English National Opera, London Coliseum, Saturday 10.2. 2006 (CC)


My colleague Melanie Eskanazi made an eloquent case for this famous Jonathan Miller production (revived here by Elaine Tyler-Hall) in 2003 and I can only echo her enthusiasm. This production has been running for some time now – since 1982 in fact and I believe that I saw one of its incarnations even before ME's – but it loses none of its impact. Teleporting the action to Little Italy (Mafia-controlled New York in the 1950s) means that shadily-lit backstreets offer an astonishing visual analogue to the dark emotions enacted by the characters - a reminder of just how deep a drama Rigoletto really is.

Musically, the performance described a sharp upward curve after an initial difficulty. If the overture seemed to reveal a not-quite-on-the-ball ENO orchestra, the fact that they were able to carry on at all was due entirely to the experience of the young conductor, Alexander Briger. I later learned that there had been serious problems in co-ordinating the off-stage band with what was going on in the pit so that at one point half the chorus and the off-stage players had been accelerated an incredible eight whole bars ahead of everyone else. Due to some amazingly slick communication from Mr. Briger, the main orchestra somehow managed to jump forward eight bars to bring everything back into place and in terms of raw nerve-power by those involved, this was a remarkable tour de force. Happily, the work proceeded confidently after that to reveal its full emotive power.

It was good to see Alan Opie take the title role once again. Well-loved, and with good reason, his major achievement was to make one's emotions resonate sympathetically with the hunchback barman. Opie has tremendous experience with this part which showed nowhere more clearly than in his Act II distress as he begs for information on Gilda's whereabouts: his cries for mercy felt completely believable. His finest moments though, occurred in the closing scene of the opera when he returns to collect his victim the Duke, but finds his daughter dying before his eyes instead. This was extremely fine music theatre.

Gilda was sung by Judith Howarth and I have heard better especially during Act I. There she was generally no more than acceptable (not fresh enough possibly, and a rather sharp tone) but by the end of Act II she seemed to have found her stride. The Duke, Peter Auty, was altogether more disappointing with rather undistinguished tone and stage presence; a real leap of imagination was required to locate him appropriately in the drama and it was tremendously difficult to believe that Gilda could love him so strongly.

Bass-baritone Brindley Sherratt's Sparafucile was another acceptable assumption of a role, his voice ideally needing more focus in its lower regions. Far better was Leah-Marian Jones' Maddalena (impressing more here than her Second Norn did in 2003) with singing matched fully by her looks.

Other roles were generally well taken. David Stephenson made a powerful Marullo and Hans-Peter Scheidegger a competent Monterone who could perhaps have been blacker of voice. But the evening was definitely Alan Opie's: his infinitely memorable characterisation essentially made the evening.


Colin Clarke




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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)